[WALTER] HAMPDEN'S COMPANY. In the winter of 1918-19, popular actor Walter Hampden took over a failing company, the Shakespeare Playhouse (originally organized by Frank McEntee), and opened in the title role of his own production of Hamlet on November 22, 1918, at the Plymouth Theatre in New York, New York. During the run of the play, several of Hampden's wealthy admirers, such as Mrs. Edward Harriman and Mrs. Gordon Abbott, joined under Delaware law to form the company Walter Hampden, Incorporated, in an attempt to reawaken public interest in Shakespeare and romantic drama.
Walter Hampden had the misfortune of being a twentieth-century actor and director with his soul planted firmly in nineteenth-century romanticism. He was certain that an audience for romantic plays existed, and he set out with inflexible optimism to find or develop such an audience. Born Walter Hampden Dougherty in 1879, he grew up in a cultured environment and determined from his youth to pursue a career in the theatre. He studied acting in both France and England, choosing as his idols famous nineteenth-century actor-managers, such as Henry Irving, despite the fact that his plan to follow in their footsteps and present romantic drama in repertory was outmoded in the United States, where audiences wanted to see either realistic dramas or light entertainment such as vaudeville. Nevertheless, Hampden persisted in the teeth of the evidence for eleven seasons, though he certainly could have gained more fame and fortune as a touring actor starring in ordinary commercial productions. The fact that he succeeded for so long as a manager was probably due more to his popularity as an actor and his skill as a director than to his choice of plays.
The Hampden company began cautiously, playing first at the Plymouth Theatre, then at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, followed by appearances at other theatres on the New York "Subway Circuit" and gradually extending its performances to theatres within commuting distance of New York. In order to do any extensive touring, Hampden was forced to deal with the infamous